ALARM has been raised over plans by the Loxodonta Africana Conservancy around Kamanjab to hunt an elephant under a problem animal permit without identifying an individual animal.
Experts have warned that this would increase the potential for human-animal conflict rather than reduce it.
The Namibia Professional Hunting Association has also raised concern that this hunt, planned to take place this week was, in fact, a commercial trophy hunt disguised as a wildlife management exercise.
The deputy director of wildlife management for the north-west, Johnson Ndokosho, last week confirmed recommending a permit to shoot an elephant belonging to one of the two small herds in the area west of Etosha National Park.
“I received a letter about a week ago from the conservancy who complained that the elephant was destroying fences and water installations,” Ndokosho said.
Ndokosho said the application was approved to “…give something back” to the conservancy in return for their losses – but it appears they have not followed ministerial guidelines by first investigating the damage and identifying a specific elephant.
Concerned farmers in the area told The Namibian that Windhoek was routinely approving and rubber-stamping hunting permits – especially the controversial “shoot and sell” ones loved by cash-strapped communal conservancies.
Conservationists were also concerned because the designated professional hunter Jan du Plessis, chairman of Loxodonta conservancy, was allegedly also involved in a controversial incident in Mangetti two years ago when a pregnant black rhino cow was shot instead of a post-breeding bull.
Du Plessis did not return any calls and repeated text messages seeking comment from him on his links to controversial hunting outfitter Peter Thormählen, who also owns a farm in the area together with deputy trade and industry minister Tjekero Tweya.
Instead, Du Plessis circulated an e-mail among Loxodonta Conservancy members, asking them not speak to any reporters.
Dr Betsy Fox, an expert in desert megafauna, who was previously employed by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) until her retirement, warned that such hunts – where no specific animal is identified – typically resulted in the biggest tusker being shot out.
Although little is known of the elephants’ migratory patterns, elephant bulls move between the true desert-adapted elephant herds of the Namib and other populations, especially during the rainy season.
Fox, now working with Elephant-Human Relations Aid (EHRA), said shooting only the older bulls would perpetuate human-animal conflicts.
“They are the ones with all the knowledge and they teach the younger bulls. They spread their genes among all the groups and so sustain the population’s viability,” Fox said.
When older bulls disappear from herds, the younger bulls often display sexually inappropriate behaviour like attempting to mount other animals, she said.
Without guidance from older animals, the younger bulls were also likely to cause damage, she said. “When they, for example, cannot get to water, the young bulls damage installations and windmills, often just because they are playful.”
The Loxodonta Conservancy itself appeared divided over the planned elephant hunt, with lodge operators accusing the management committee of just looking to make a quick buck.
“We wonder if they will be bringing in a client to hunt this ‘problem animal’ as they have done on a previous occasion,” one manager of a lodge said. Like several others spoken to, he preferred to remain anonymous because of fears of a backlash from MET.
Inquiries with the CITES office in Windhoek established that Loxodonta would in fact be allowed to export such a trophy, even though this meant a loss amounting to thousands of dollars in trophy hunting fees a normal trophy hunt would earn.
“We (EHRA) regularly offer [Kamanjab] farmers our services in protecting their property like building walls around water installations – all it takes is a bit of cement, effort and time,” said Fox. “But it seems they prefer to shoot an elephant rather than take the appropriate measures.”